49ers sticking with Nick Mullens as starting quarterback

SANTA CLARA - The 49ers may have found their starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

Nick Mullens will start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the upcoming bye week and may start the 49ers’ following game as well. “Mullens is our starter until I say differently,” Kyle Shanahan announced Tuesday. “That’s how it will continue to be.”

Mullens made his first career start just two weeks ago. He replaced C.J. Beathard, who had replaced Jimmy Garoppolo after Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mullens faced the Oakland Raiders during his debut. He threw for 262 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and posted a passer rating of 151.9. Monster numbers. The 49ers won 34-3. Everything looked easy for Mullens.

Then, on Monday night he made his second career start and faced the New York Giants. This time, he didn’t produce as well as before. He threw for 250 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, posted a quarterback rating of 73.7, and the 49ers lost 27-23.

Despite his poor statistics against New York, Shanahan said Mullens took a step forward, not backward. “It was a positive experience. The guy had played one game in his career. I know statistically that was the best start in NFL history. But Nick did some real good things (Monday), too.

“It was a little bit more of a challenge. He had to play four quarters. The Oakland game got out of hand pretty fast. Here, he had to do it beginning to end. What I liked about Nick is he never seemed rattled throughout the whole game. He continued playing. He was great after the game. And it was great watching film with him. He’ll get better from each experience he has.”

Mullens didn’t make many big, splashy plays or long throws against the Giants. His farthest completion was 26 yards. But he did important little things the average fan watching on television wouldn’t have noticed.

“There were a number of plays where (Mullens) got to different guys in his progression,” Shanahan said.

Plays such as Mullens’ 11-yard touchdown pass to running back Matt Breida during the third quarter.

Mullens dropped back and looked to his right, where most of his receivers ran. Except Breida, who ran to the left. “(Breida) was the last (read),” Shanahan explained. (Mullens) saw him flash, made the right decision because he was open and made a good throw.”

High degree of difficulty.

Mullens did other difficult things, too.

“He avoided a number of sacks,” Shanahan said. “There was one I thought he should have (thrown) to a deeper guy, from my view on the sideline. I got on (Mullens) for it because I wanted a bigger pass. He just sits there and listens and takes it.

“Then, I watched the film. If he would have gone for what I wanted, it would have been a sack and would have been second and 15. That’s stuff I like. He’s got a feel for the pocket. I always want to be aggressive and go down the field and have bigger plays, but not at the expense of risking a sack. He has done a good job with that.”

Mullens has taken zero sacks during his first two starts, which is surprising. His predecessor, Beathard, had taken 18 sacks in five starts. And Beathard’s predecessor, Garoppolo, took 13 sacks in three starts this season. Pass protection seemed like a major issue before Mullens started playing. But he has improved the protection, because he gets rid of the ball quickly.

Mullens also makes mistakes, as most young quarterbacks do.

His big mistake against the Giants was his first interception. He threw a soft, dangerous pass toward the sideline, and the Giants picked it off deep in 49ers territory. The Giants scored a touchdown three plays later. Bad result for Mullens.

Still, Shanahan thought Mullens had the right idea.

“Nick went to the right read,” Shanahan said. “Maybe just a hair late. When you’re a hair late, you’ve got to put a little bit more on it, which I think he could have. He didn’t. You’ve got to make a better throw or decide to throw it away.”

Call it a learning experience.

Mullens will have lots of them the rest of the season if he keeps the starting job. Shanahan wants Mullens to learn from his mistakes.

“Continue to get better,” Shanahan said. “He’s a good pocket passer - I want him to be perfect. I want him to be automatic. I know that’s what he wants, too. We’ll keep working until he is.”

Injury update

Linebacker Reuben Foster (hamstring), safety Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) and wide receiver Pierre Garcon (knee) will return to practice next week following the bye. All three missed Monday’s game against the Giants.

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